As I begin to pen down my journey to my present profession of being a school teacher a myriad of images and thoughts cross my mind. Trying to connect the dots back to my school days, I can still visualize the crisp image of me playing Teacher – Teacher at home with my younger sister. Right from mimicking teachers by dressing like them and then enacting their teaching style at home, I now realize that somewhere in my subconscious mind my destiny was etched.
How I became a school teacher
I would be lying to myself if I say that I always wanted to be a teacher. My childhood ambitions fluctuated from being a lawyer, judge and even a dentist thanks to a painful episode of uprooting one of my milk teeth! Later as I crossed middle school, with a strong interest for humanities and liberal arts, I was really charmed by the life of foreign diplomats and I had made up my mind that I should prepare for Indian civil service exams to become an Indian Foreign Service officer. Honestly that was my first love and teenage infatuation has a vice like grip on a teenager.
However at that point I ignored a crucial fact of my life which posed a serious threat to my dreams, which was growing up in a strong patriarchal family where the father decides everything right from what time you should wake up, to what you have to do in life and to whom you should marry. Since he was a chemical engineer, there was no other option but to accept his verdict of pursuing pure science stream in high school.
Unrequited love and suppression does churn out rebels.
By the end of my grade 12th, I had decided that I would pursue my graduation from a good college in Delhi university which would whet my appetite for liberal arts, something which I missed so much during my high school days. Naturally it was a piece of cakewalk for me to fail IIT entrance as I had already decided that I did not want to be an engineer!!
My college years shaped the person that I am today. The professors did not stick to mundane issues of chemistry only. I still remember one of my 1st year Physics professor who used to ask our opinions on various social issues that plagued women and our society in general. That had a very deep impact on me and now that I am a teacher I try my level best to give students something to ponder upon at their home apart from just loading them with homework.
On the contrary I started liking Chemistry thanks to my dedicated, liberal college teachers and at one point of time I had a temptation to come back to my college and teach, but I shelved that idea as my long term plan still remained the same of being a diplomat.
It was 2007 when Indian stock market witnessed one of its glorious phases and I witnessed my struggling phase after completing my graduation. I was a freelance home tutor teaching chemistry to high school students while I was preparing for Bank Probationary Officer’s (Bank P.O) exam. I was just 20 years old and the official age required to appear for the exam was 21 years.
As I became 21 years old I started giving the exams. Witnessing the economic turmoil I played safe by appearing only in PSU bank exams. At that point I thought that once I start working in a bank, I will save money to prepare for my civil service exams, but life had something else in store for me.
August 2009 was when my Ache Din resurfaced in my life as I had started working in Canara bank as a Probationary officer. Armed with financial independence, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by learning a foreign language. Of course this was also fuelled by the fact that banking career in a PSU organization seemed to me pretty monotonous and dry. Hence when I received my service confirmation and final posting in 2011 in Indore, I enrolled for French classes in Alliance Française Indore.
This was a turning point in my life. The early morning classes were the days I waited eagerly to attend. Apart from my classroom friends, I was blessed with an excellent instructor, Ms.Neha Bhagat. Her passion for French language and culture coupled with her Zen type personality enamored me and had a profound impact upon me.
I still remember after my classes when I used to go for my work, I used to reflect my utility in banking service. I used to question myself whether in the long run would I be able to find nirvana being a banker. Whether I could find a purpose to my life working as a government employee either as a banker or a Foreign Service diplomat?
While introspecting, I hungered for more and by the end of 2011, I knew that I would achieve atonement, by working in the education sector thanks to the impact that my language instructor and my college professors had on me. Though many people were scandalized by my decision and they warned me that it is not a very romantic decision, but I relied on my gut and now that I look back I feel that was the best decision of my life.
I quit my banking services in February 2012 and I joined a startup education firm named English Helper Pvt. Ltd in Hyderabad. It was a unique and challenging experience in its own way as most of my company’s clients were affordable private schools where the tuition fee ranged from Rs 500 – Rs.1000 per month. My daily visits and conversation with the teachers and principals of those schools taught me how blessed my life was and how important it was to value simple things like power supply of 2 hours when most of the villages of Telengana used to witness power shutdown for continuous two to three days.
Apart from all this I was simultaneously pursuing my B1 level in French and I had also started applying for the post of French teacher in different international curriculum schools in Hyderabad. I was successfully selected and started working as a French language teacher to teach International Baccalaureate programme (IB) to primary students in Oakridge international school from May 2013.
That was the launch pad of my teaching career and it became better every year from then onwards. The biggest break was when I got an offer to work in GEMS Education in Dubai after one year. I also finished my DALF – C1 level in French from Alliance Française Dubai. After a stint of 2 years and 3 months I returned back last month from Dubai to join a fully residential school which is nestled at the foot of Sahyadri hills in Lonavala, India. Since all the schools that I had worked were non residential schools, I thought this would be a unique opportunity to add to my learning curve.
My experiences as a teacher
I would rate my overall experience in education sector and especially as a teacher as a very positive and fulfilling one. You never know when a primary school kid will hug you suddenly and without any reason. You will never come to know when a child will compliment on your dress even though you are wearing an ordinary kurti in school or even write a random thank you note for just being a teacher.
I relived my childhood by looking at the world from their perspective. Their innocence and sense of humour taught me tenderness which I had lost in this race of life. My kids taught me to slow down, smile for no reason, laugh your heart out for further no reason and most of all to be honest to yourself by practicing what one preaches as students are the ones who will question right on your face if you don’t stand up for what you teach.
Sometimes even their unexpected answers can crack you up to splits. For example I was teaching the concept of subject- predicate to grade 5 students. After writing a sentence on the board, I asked them what the subject in this sentence is. Their answer ‘ma’am subject is English!’
Apart from all this I was also bestowed by opportunities to practice my leadership skills by taking part in extracurricular activities as I was the student council mentor of my school in Dubai and in my present organization I am the faculty advisor of Model United Nations club of my school.
Yes I would say that not every moment is a rosy one. In the initial days I had to come out from the cocoon of my ideas that I was taught in my childhood. It was difficult for me to accept that marks are the only criteria to judge a student, considering that I was an academically bright student during my school days.
With time I realized that intelligence can also be measured outside classroom and every student has some unique feature to be counted upon. I credit my change in perception to professional development workshops that I attended and by reading books and articles written by prominent educationists.
A typical day in my life as a teacher
In general a typical day would begin from 8:00 am and end by 3:30 pm. In the morning I generally review my lesson plans and other preparations for my lesson and keep things ready and organized to deliver my lesson.
Apart from lessons a major part of the time is consumed preparing assessments, correction, maintaining records, lesson planning, supervising any cultural event, department meeting (never ending though as some SLT members just like the sound of their voice!) and preparing for parent conference.
In general I work relentlessly to finish all my work before I leave office as I thoroughly believe in work – life balance, though I have seen many teachers complaining about work stress as they carry a pile of work back home. I never felt the heat probably because I work in the foreign language department which happens to be a skill shortage department and has a healthy student teacher ratio.
Moreover I believe in empowering students by making them independent workers which automatically reduces the work load as they are not dependent on you for everything. In a residential school set up, there are times when I have to supervise the study hours during evening hours as residential schools exhibit more of community learning approach as everyone lives in the same premises and are a part of one extended family.
How to start a teaching career
The minimum qualification required to be a teacher is Graduation in a particular discipline that they want to teach. For Post Graduate teachers (PGT teachers) Masters in the relevant subject is mandatory. Many top notch international curriculum schools like Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, Mallya Aditi International School, TISB etc prefer candidates with M.Phil or even Doctorate degrees. Most schools demand a Bachelors in education (B.Ed ) degree, but of late the trend is changing. People without a B.Ed degree do get a job in schools but at a lower pay – scale.
In my case I have not done my B.Ed as it was not required for a French teacher and since foreign language instructors are in high demand, it did not handicap me at all in terms of negotiating my salary. Instead of B.Ed, I pursued my Cambridge International Diploma for Teachers and Trainers (C.I.D.T.T) from University of Cambridge, while I was working in Oakridge Hyderabad. It is a one year online course divided into four modules which were application based as the assignment structured after each module expected me to apply my work place learning rather than just learn theories in education. Many international curriculum schools in India prefer C.I.D.T.T to B.Ed and some even sponsor their faculty members for this course.
Average salaries for teachers in India
Remuneration in teaching job is not very lucrative and is the major reason why teaching sector cannot attract or retain the best of the talent. On an average a Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT) in a Tier –II city can expect a starting salary of say 15,000 – 20,000 (INR) per month whereas a PGT teacher can expect somewhere around 22,000 – 25,000 (INR).
This is just a generic figure based on my experience as most private schools in India do not follow pay commission scales as recommended by Government of India. A lot of it depends on which city, which brand of school and which subject you will be teaching. Skill shortage subjects like Psychology, Foreign languages and Theory of Knowledge (TOK) attract better salaries.
Many good schools also start off from Rs. 45,000 and go up to 1 Lakh per month based on the candidate’s teaching experience. Unfortunately I have even come across newspaper reports where private school teachers are paid as low as Rs 3,000 per month. So nothing is standardized.
Vice principals after 8 -10 years of work experience can expect a compensation of around 50,000 – 70,000 INR per month and Principals can earn somewhere near a lakh or a bit more per month.
Qualities and skills required for teaching jobs
Apart from educational qualifications and a strong command in one’s subject, a set of soft skills is required to be an effective teacher. Prominent among them are organization and clarity with an analytical bent of mind. One should have a high EQ as empathy and care is something that will be vital to deal with kids coming from disruptive background.
An aura of self confidence, enthusiasm towards learning new things everyday and dynamism would give an edge, otherwise this job will just look like any other job and boredom will soon start slipping in. Most important public speaking, team working ability, wit and humor are the important skill set of a promising teacher.
So if you are a person who is attracted by summer vacations, free education for your own children and other perks offered by schools, then teaching won’t be a rewarding career in the long run. Very soon you will start whining and feel miserable about your life. Teaching is all about soiling one’s hands by constantly learning, unlearning and innovating new practices and keeping oneself abreast with the latest pedagogical skills and of course sharing and implementing them in your lessons.
If you are one of those who likes to be chained to your desk and check Face book status in every half an hour, then teaching won’t be a very entertaining option for you. There is so much to learn, absorb and implement that the day just flies in a jiffy. Also if you are a person who is very rigid about one’s belief system that you grew up with like stressing on marks rather than holistic learning or teacher centric learning rather than acting as facilitators to promote student centric learning, then swallowing new concepts in this sector would be difficult. One needs to loosen up their grip to invite new ideas.
Teaching is a very demanding job. Think about a scenario where you have to deliver a lesson as well as monitor attainment in learning in 40 minutes to a class of say 25 students or even more of varying learning needs. This definitely calls for rigorous time management and organization skills. Apart from students you have department heads or boss to whom you have to convince your ideas and show your impact as a teacher. You need real patience, marketing and conflict resolution skills to win an over defensive parent to your side who can even pose a threat to your job as customer complaints are taken very seriously in any organization.
Hence teaching can be an enormously rewarding career but it is not everyone’s cup of tea as work stress and heavy work load have forced new recruits to leave the job. Fear not it is all about how one views life. There are exciting career opportunities in this sector and teaching can act as a boon to achieve them. In the traditional way one can expect to rise up the ranks to become a department head, Vice principal and finally when one sports a salt-n-pepper look then one can expect to become a school Principal after 15 -18 years of teaching experience. Apart from this one can pursue higher education and aim for Doctoral studies to teach college or university students. One can switch tracks, for example in my case I can even work in a corporate firm as a foreign language expert.
Since teachers have great communication and presentation skills, high levels of creativity, and lots of experience in dealing with difficult situations – emotional, pastoral, practical and logistical they can be an ideal fit for commercial sector where an education background would be an asset. Typical examples would be working in NGO, or education companies, film and theatre, counseling, humanitarian law firms, corporate and soft skill training and many more. The sky is the limit to spread one’s wings.
To conclude my reflections, I feel my greatest teacher would be my students and my lessons from life which taught me to find the purpose of my life. I would like to conclude with a quote by a prominent historian:
‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. – Sir Henry Adams’